the 2015 blog year in review

2015 was the year that I really started blogging. Technically I started tentimestea in 2014, but this was only a brief one month affair.

It’s been a year and yet sometimes when I look back at this past year of blogging, I feel like I’ve gotten nowhere. I haven’t made even a thousandth of the things I wanted to make (and I never really will get there–there just isn’t enough time in the world! or enough butter). I didn’t develop any recipes of true perfection. I didn’t take any startlingly beautiful photos or write deliciously unforgettable prose.

Ergo (I needed to use this word at some point), the review. A concrete reflection over the past year because surely, surely something has happened. And well, some things indeed have.

Below I’ve briefly touched on some of my favourite posts, and highlighted what came out of each of them, whether a particularly good buttercream or something deeper and more profound(??!?! actually nope. Having finished writing this post, some deeper meaning is just not to be found).

chestnut mont blanc

This was the first post that was a bit more a project. The mont blanc overall worked quite well, and I thought the vanilla creme diplomat was particularly stellar… perhaps it’s only with rose-coloured lenses, but I think that was one of my favourite smoothest, creamiest pastry creams that also held its shape. Looking back though, it’s full of some  strange angles and awkward lighting…which still happens, but hopefully the fact that I can recognize it means I’ve improved a bit since!

rhubarb and hibiscus macarons

So I didn’t notice this until now, but gosh, everything is very blue! That aside, these macarons turned out surprisingly well from flavours to textures. While the shells weren’t piped too cleanly, the filling was a great opportunity to use natural colouring (hibiscus) to heighten the colour of the rhubarb curd filling (which otherwise would have been a sort of off-beige-pink-yellow. I also got to use a lot a lot (i.e. an overabundant and overenthusiastic excess) of process photos…

white nectarine, black sesame and mochi tart 

While I was planning this tart I was so absolutely certain it would not work out well. That the mochi layer would be starchy and dry and in combination with the shortbread crust and cream, would make for something more unpalatably mouth-drying than a pail of unsweetened chokecherries. Yet, it did manage to work, and quite well! I played around with the mochi a couple times until I ended up with something very soft and lovely with the cream and just springy, not rubbery and too dry against the crust.

This post was also one of the few times I managed to have a bit of an anecdotal narrative preamble; finding something to write about is quite a challenge that I find difficult to surmount with almost every blog post!

poached rhubarb and hazelnut tart

What I loved about this tart was not the crust (which was soggy…as I’ve come to realize, I really need to blind bake!) but the flavours were good. I also made some good use of the shape of the tart pan. In the end what truly impressed me though, was that fact that I persevered in my rhubarb-poaching efforts until I ended up with lengths of cardamom and vanilla poached rhubarb more delicate and tender than I thought would be possible.

lemon dill rolled cake 

The introduction of dill, an herb I always associate with savoury, to a sweet cake and their subsequent agreeable interactions with each other was encouraging for my eventual goal of fitting parsley or cilantro into a dessert. The filling was a structural disaster and blindingly sweet, however the cake turned out nicely (the cake is not my recipe, so that makes sense). I made the cake again recently, with half spelt and 7 g of toasted ground black sesame–once again, it was the perfect light roll cake and went wonderfully filled simply with a good slick of unsweetened whipped cream.

rhubarb layer cake

I suppose I included this as a formality; this was the tentimestea birthday cake, which I had been planning for a month. It didn’t actually turn out very well though; the cake layers were tough and dry (something I’ve since learned to fix–well, sort of) and overall the cake was simultaneously too acidic and too sweet. The main achievement was the rhubarb buttercream. It was tart, not too sweet, and actually tasted of rhubarb–I’m still quite happy when I think back to it.

garden tart

I not only was able to pay homage to one of my favourite food blogs, but also try one of the recipes that she has posted. It was lovely, even victim to my own clumsy hands and questionable fridge contents.

goat cheese cake with figs and onion greens

There is no way about it. This was just simply a spectacular failure, and sometimes it is quite exhilarating to be writing about those because there is inherently so much to say and so much to muse about and so much to consider.

a spring quiche and a winter quiche

I always love a good character foil, and, for that matter, a good quiche foil as well. On one hand we have a light and generously herby spring quiche and on the other we have an aggressively Swiss chard-packed quiche suffused with gruyere. Even the lighting seems to be in contrast when the two are juxtaposed. Oh my! I can see the beginnings of a great and gorgeously heart-breaking story already…

That aside, the constructive benefit of these two quiches is the realization of pure versatility: how well a vegetable tart of any sort can respond to the seasons and the contents of the fridge. Perhaps not quiche every time, but a flaky galette, or a crust of brioche, or a thin rye shortbread–any of it could be a base to a vegetative portrait.

(My tart enthusiasm is to blame for the effusive nature of the previous sentences.)

Best of luck to everyone in the (Gregorian calendar) new year! Happy blogging and reading, happy cooking, baking and eating, and most of all, take care and enjoy yourself.

See you again next year…

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fruitcake (2015)

My mother started making fruitcake a couple decades ago, and since then the original grainy photocopy has been marked over and crossed out numerous times, black pen scratched over blue pen scrawled over pencil. I love that I’ve been able to step in a bit later into the development, at the point where the process already carries the familiarity, expectations, and experience of a tradition.

Fruitcake is magical. It looks a bit mysterious already–dark, ambiguously and blockishly shaped, heavy with aromas once unwrapped. I remember unearthing a fruitcake just barely my junior (really!) a few years ago, which, once peeled out of the crystal-encrusted cheesecloth was dry, musty, but (amazingly and unfortunately) somehow passable and might be considered edible. We sawed off a few slivers to sample before tossing it–though after reading this story, while they do have quite a head start on us, we really should have kept it!

Fruitcake is a bit of a project, for the most part, simply due to the mass of ingredients–a dozen eggs, a pound of butter and four kilograms of dried fruit. This year my sister and I were recruited for the task, and with three of us the process really seemed to go so much faster!

Since we never got around to making the fruitcake until quite a bit later in the year than usual, the current batch is still not ready to try. While I can’t comment on this years fruitcake, I’ve compensated with the annual tasting of previous fruitcakes. My mother doesn’t use nuts, prolonging the lifespan of the fruitcakes without nut oils that are prone to go rancid. After that, it’s a matter of storage–in a cool place, perhaps refrigerated if you can, and the occasional hydration to keep them from drying out too much. We wrap them in paper, then some plastic and double bagged in snitched bakery bags.

2009 is the oldest that we still have. It’s held up well, but it is definitely a little bit dry (it was also the last year we used maraschino cherries).

2010 was a very, very strange year. Drier than even 2009 and with occasional hits of very hard and intense candied ginger.

2011 was a curious experiment; we used an “orchard medley” of dried fruits: spongy dried apples and pears that formed tough and chewy disks scattered throughout the cake. The cake itself looks quite a bit lighter in colour as a result, and has never seemed as rich and well-saturated as the rest.

2012 is just about everything you could want a fruitcake to be. Dark and moist and compacted into a dense receptacle for boozy dried fruits. It may be a slightly strange simile, but I’d compare it to a brownie or fudge–it has the same decadent heft.

When you compare the taste of a 2014 fruitcake to a 2012, my dad put it quite well: you can taste the individuals fruits in 2014 (a cake of fruits, we might call it), but in 2012 it just tastes like a fruitcake. It’s quite a transformation that takes place–it becomes much more than a cake, or not exactly a cake at all anymore, in any recognizable sense of the term. While we don’t have any 2013 for comparison, I’d suggest a three year aging period seems quite agreeable, and one year still a bit on the younger side.

Fruitcakes make good gifts, especially when you end up with 6 kg worth every year. I do hear that it goes over best when you give the current vintage (though apparently aged fruitcakes go for quite a bit).

I’m sharing this fruitcake at Natascha’s fruitcake challenge! It’s quite fun to see how different fruitcakes can be and the plethora of interpretations–I’ve seen a number show up in the reader over the past couple months, from light fruitcakes to rum-soaked dark fruitcakes.

Unfortunately, as I’ve said above, I can’t say how this years fruitcake has turned out, but hopefully you might be able to take something from the experience of previous years. Quite discouragingly, that seems to be something like don’t experiment! as I ended up regretting not only the crystallized ginger, but also the dried apples and pears… However, some things have definitely changed from one year to the next. The main aim is always to clear out whatever old dried fruit we have in the cupboard, and so the fruitcake has proved to be quite flexible in absorbing whatever we throw at it. We’ve gradually cut back from the currants and dates to make room for dried prunes and cherries, and this year I also increased the amount of spices. (Dear mum has also freely admitted the procedural details of the fruitcake could use a bit of work, such as changing what stage the egg whites are incorporated.)

Besides, the experiments and the failures and all the variability from one batch to the next is what endows each generation of fruitcake with unique character. The fruitcake can act a snapshot (an aging and changing snapshot) of what transpired the last fruitcake session. Without these experiments the fruitcake tasting wouldn’t be quite as fun or provoke the retrieval of quite as many memories.

Happy fruitcake-eating!

fruitcake

Yields 6 x 1 kg fruitcakes. 

fruit mixture — 4.4 kg total (the particulars don’t matter)

2 kg sultana raisins

160 g Thomson raisins

860 g dried currants

230 g dried cranberries

550 g candied mixed peel

200 g prunes, chopped

200 g dates, chopped

200 g dried cherries

cake

4 c flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground allspice

4 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

12 eggs, separated

1/2 c molasses

1 lb butter

1 c sugar

2 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 c brandy

1/2 c strong coffee

In a large pot, combine the fruit.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients for the cake. Add one cup to the fruit and mix until all the fruit is coated. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites until stiff and set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks with the molasses and set aside.

Combine the brandy and coffee and set aside.

Cream the butter with the sugar and vanilla in a very large bowl until light. Slowly add the egg yolk mixture, beating constantly.

Fold half the flour into the butter mixture. Stir in a spoonful of egg whites to lighten, then fold in the remaining egg whites. Follow with half the brandy-coffee mixture, then half of the remaining flour, the remaining brandy-coffee and finally the remaining flour.

Pour the fruit overtop and combine until just mixed. Equally portion out into 6 parchment lined loaf pans.

Bake 275 F for 2 hours or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack.

Douse each cake with 1-2 capfuls of rum or brandy. Wrap in paper, then plastic. Store in a cool place, hydrating every week or so, and it will be ready to eat in a couple months.

For long term storage, wrap the cake in several layers and seal it well in a bag. Keep in a cool place. Hydrate a few times in the weeks before you intend to eat some; otherwise it will keep quite nicely.

Image courtesy of Natascha’s Palace

swiss chard and gruyere quiche

I think this quiche makes a perfect foil to the last quiche I posted. That one was made in the early summer, filled with herbs–especially our prolific chives–and fiddleheads. This quiche I made in November with the last, somewhat withered, leaves of Swiss chard packed in the back of the fridge and then grocery store parsley and some of our sturdy and resilient sage. I prefer the spring quiche–all the herbs make for a fresh and lovely well-packed tart. However this quiche was a good use of the Swiss chard (though it felt quite lacking with only the parsley and green onions to brighten it up).

I struggled a bit with the pastry in this tart (sorry for all these comparisons–I’m really going to give this poor quiche an inferiority complex–but the spring quiche had a considerably better pastry). It ended up baking up very soggy and not very appetizing, and as I had already overcooked the filling, I didn’t dare bake it any longer. However, I did end up finding a solution. To reheat them, I cooked a quiche directly on a nonstick pan on the stovetop. This provided the directed heat to crisp up the bottoms beautifully (and it managed to gift the slightest bit of flake to the bottom crust) without cooking the filling any more than necessary.

I have done just about no holiday-specific baking yet, apart from two (failed) stollens. (I may try again, but I’m not sure anyone is still up for more questionable breads…!) Otherwise, I would love to post something more festive and thematically appropriate–but for now, I’ll bring quiche to Fiesta Friday, hosted by Angie, the Novice Gardener and this week cohosted by Caroline of Caroline’s Cooking and Linda of La Petite Paniere.

swiss chard and gruyere quiche

whole wheat pastry

100 g cold butter

100 g all purpose flour

100 g whole wheat flour

good pinch of salt

cold water, as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces. Whisk together the flours and salt, toss the butter in the flour until coated. Then rub into the flour until in small flakes. Add cold water and mix until it just forms a cohesive dough. Wrap in plastic, chill.

 

filling & assembly

~250 g swiss chard leaves

1 clove garlic

olive oil

1 shallot

1 handful parsley

3 green onions

1 small block gruyere

1 very small chunk of pecorino romano

a generous slice of soft unripened goat cheese

1 radish

some sage leaves and some additional parsley leaves

150 mL milk

150 mL heavy cream

6 eggs

1 tbsp dijon mustard

grated nutmeg

salt, pepper

Wash, trim and chop the swiss chard. Finely chop the garlic. Heat some olive oil in a pan and cook the garlic and chopped chard stems until the chard stems are a bit softened, then add the leaves and cook until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Set side to cool.

Finely chop the shallots and green onions and set aside. Pick the parsley leaves and chop. Thinly slice the radish.

Grate the hard cheeses on the fine holes of a box grater. Crumble the goat cheese into pieces.

Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, dijon, and grated nutmeg. Season with a pinch of salt, a generous grind of pepper.

At this point, preheat the oven to 375F.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry until very thin. Line the tart pans.

Sprinkle some shallots, green onions, and parsley on the bottom of each tart. Top with cheeses and then the swiss chard. Cover with the custard, and top with some additional sage and parsley leaves and radish slices.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until nicely browned on top.

almond and rose apple sharlotka

Mr. Fox, being fantastic.

This is the sort of fall-aesthetic I always have in mind, and only in my mind. My actual fall doesn’t come with marigold-coloured skies, underground burrows, or even papery red leaves.

It’s all clouds and indecisively chilly weather, crowded transit and coats a bit too thin. It’s also apple time, and so then I forgive weather.

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A little while ago I not-so-discretely alluded to my love for milkandbun’s sharlotka recipe. This cake is an adaptation of hers (and only after making the original twice!). It is in no means an improvement–my addition of ground almonds and use of spelt made a heavy sort of cake instead of the tall, light, and yet apple-laden and moist original sharlotka.

I still prefer the original, but I can never resist playing around with recipes–for better or for worse, it seems.

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I don’t know when I’ll get tired of apples. I’ve been eating so many lately… and it doesn’t seem like anytime soon.

Choose only the best apple for the job…(image sources: 1, 2, 3)

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I thought maybe I should hurry up with some of these fall posts as it’s quite quickly becoming winter…

almond and rose apple sharlotka

Adapted from Mila of milkandbun’s sharlotka

2-3 apples

30 g ground almond

65 g all purpose flour

40 g spelt flour

3 large eggs

salt

65 g sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

small spoonful of vinegar

2 tbsp water

1 tsp rosewater

dried rose flower

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 7″/18-cm springform pan with parchment.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Toast the almonds in a skillet until browned and fragrant. Whisk together the almonds and flours.

Separate the eggs. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and whip until stiff.

Add the sugar to the egg yolks. Mix the baking soda with a small splash of vinegar, then add that, the water, and the rosewater to the egg yolk mixture. Beat with a wire whisk until thick, pale and fluffy. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the egg whites gently.

Sprinkle the flour mixture overtop and carefully fold into the batter.

Spread half of the batter into the pan, and layer with 3/4 of the sliced apples. Add the remaining batter overtop, and arrange the remaining apple slices. Sprinkle with some dried rose flower.

Bake for 40 min-1 hour or until nicely browned on top and cooked through. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

Apple ginger snaps should be the next project…! (Image source)

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spiced golden beet muffins

All that we seem to be able to grow successfully are beets (and swiss chard). It becomes a bit overwhelming when even the swiss chard provides no respite, tasting like very intense beet greens. Eventually it gets to the point when I start eating beet greens to distract myself from the chard…and so I’ve been trying to be creative.

(Now this is where the muffin-part comes in). Recently I was craving muffins. I ended up buying a raspberry muffin for myself after a few days of muffin-dreaming. The outsides were a bit dried and the inside a bit hard and tough. The muffin in my head was very soft and moist and only a rough and spongy crumb to distinguish it from a cake. At this point I did what I should have done in the first place, and decided to make some muffins instead.

The yellow beets have a bit of a milder beet taste, and look as sunny as turmeric. I always think that this will make me like them, but I became tired of beets three years ago.

The muffins are sweet, but not too sweet, heavily spiced, and dotted with egg yolk-yellow pieces of beet. The beet flavour comes out distinctly. It’s very earthy and a bit apple-y (but the net result is not, I promise you, a very dirty apple–as refreshingly different as that might be, the taste is just beet). The muffin itself is moist, soft, definitely heavy but not too dense.

I would call them a success…if I wanted to taste the beets.

Hopefully there is someone less tired of beets than me at Fiesta Friday… As always, wonderfully hosted by Angie, the Novice Gardener, and this week cohosted by Johanne of the French Gardener Dishes and Liz of spades, spatulas & spoons. And a question: what do you like to do with beets?

spiced golden beet muffins

Adapted from smitten kitchen‘s carrot cake. Makes 12 very filling muffins. I think grating raw beets very finely would be nice to do, but I had plenty of pre-roasted and peeled beets to use up. 

190 g all purpose flour

100 g spelt flour

2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

300 g roasted and peeled golden beets

1/4 lb butter, melted

130 g brown sugar

2 large eggs

230 mL milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Grate the beets on a box grater and set aside.

Beat together the melted butter and brown sugar, add the eggs and beat until smooth. Mix in the grated beets until coated, then add the milk and mix gently until combined. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix just until all the flour has been moistened. Portion out into the muffin tin.

Bake around 20-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed with only a few crumbs clinging and the tops are browned.

calendula and sage scones & sage advice

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This may be the wisest advice I can ever hope to impart. For the next time you have a scone disaster, I’ve discovered that there is nothing more pleasant than jam and softly whipped cream. It can rescue even the toughest and stoutest of scones–these scones are one such example of those magically restorative powers. They were suddenly rendered fully and even pleasantly edible. (This was lucky, as I found the bits of sugar and flour they shed a bit too inconvenient to replace some flattened loaves of bread rocks as my favourite paperweights.)

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A not-so recent discovery is that my special skill is “bread-transformation”. Whether biscotti, pastry, or scones, I always manage to overwork the dough and produce something chewy and tough…but with some rather decent gluten development of course.

Calendula flowers apparently taste quite buttery. I can sort of see (though it’s hard to say how much of it is just the power of suggestion and imagination) when I eat them, but they hardly come out in the scones–the main purpose is just for an excitingly speckled dough.

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And what else would this post be without more on the odyssey of me struggling to write blog posts? (Oh woe is me). A friend, who I’ll refer to as the Very Smart Friend, writes this clever and funny and amazing blog, which mostly composes “prose to concrete nouns”. We talked a bit about my struggles, the only conversation topic I typically engage in.

She gave some rather sage advice. It was hardly unexpected; she is one of the most self-composed and disciplined people I know, and awfully good at giving advice.

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Very Smart Friend’s advice was to write about whatever has happened to you lately or whatever it is you’re thinking about. If it’s a bad exam, she suggested, write about that, or maybe write about papers after doing nothing but sifting through pages and pages of papers. From there, you can branch into all sorts of directions. For her, a single word can sprout into a clever essay. For me, I squint, lean back, eat some tough scones and hope that something will come of it. 

And so, today I took her advice.

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calendula and sage spelt sourdough scones

Adapted from Vanessa’s gorgeous sourdough scones.

35 g spelt flour

90 g flour

16 g sugar

good pinch salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

50 g cold butter

15 small sage leaves + extra

2-3 calendula flowers

55 g sourdough starter

70 g buttermilk

egg, to glaze

Whisk together the flours, sugar, salt and baking powder. Thinly sliver the sage leaves and rub together with a spoonful more sugar. Pick the petals from the calendula.

Cut the butter into small pieces, toss into the flour mixture. Rub together with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Add the sage and calendula petals, mix lightly to combine.

Whisk together the sourdough starter and buttermilk until smooth. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add the buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a rough dough.

Turn it out onto a floured surface, knead only once or twice until cohesive. Pat out into a thick circle and cut into desired shapes. Reroll scraps.

Place on a baking sheet, glaze with a bit of egg, sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes or until golden.

Serve warm, spread generously with apricot jam and whipped cream (or clotted).

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